The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) has extended its deadline for final comments on the sale of Puget Energy by about a month.

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Pacific Northwest

Utilities

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) has extended its deadline for final comments on the sale of Puget Energy by about a month.

Supporters and opponents of the proposed buyout of the state’s largest utility thought they had filed their final comments in late September.

But the commission Wednesday asked participants to file an additional round of briefs by Oct. 24 with “more focused point and counterpoint discussion of the evidence.”

The WUTC has the last word on the deal, which would put Puget Energy in the hands of Australian investment bank Macquarie and several Canadian pension funds.

The stock market Wednesday signaled some traders doubt the deal will be completed amid the global credit crisis. Puget Energy shares closed at $21.85, down $1.95 and well below the $30 offered by Macquarie and its partners.

A Puget Energy spokeswoman said financing for the deal is still intact.

Software

Court action batters RealNetworks stock

RealNetworks stock dropped Wednesday to its lowest value in 5 ½ years after a judge extended a restraining order to ban the sale of its RealDVD software.

The stock fell 34 cents, or 8 percent, to $3.91, the lowest since March 2003.

A federal judge Tuesday extended an order preventing RealNetworks from selling its DVD-copying program after Hollywood studios contended the software violated copyright laws. RealNetworks says the program is legal.

Meanwhile, Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson cut his rating on the stock, saying RealNetworks’ Rhapsody online music service hasn’t been able to crack the lead that Apple’s iTunes has in that market.

Financial services

Russell chairman to retire at year-end

Russell Investments, the Tacoma-based money-management unit of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, said Chairman Mike Phillips will retire in December.

Phillips, who joined Russell in 1981, was president and CEO for a decade beginning in 1993. He became chairman in 2003, planning to retire after five years at age 60, said spokeswoman Jennifer Tice.

Phillips will continue as chairman of Russell 20-20, a nonprofit association of 20 large retirement-plan sponsors and 20 major money managers that explores the economic and investment environments in emerging markets around the world.

He also plans to open an investment advisory firm in Geneva, Switzerland.

Russell in June named Northwestern Mutual executive John Schlifske as president and CEO.

It is in the midst of a closely watched search for a new headquarters location presumed to be in the Puget Sound area.

Nation / World

Real estate

Pending home sales jump in August

Pending home sales rose 7.4 percent from July to August, an unexpected piece of positive news for the battered U.S. housing market.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday its seasonally adjusted index of pending sales for existing homes rose to 93.4 from an upwardly revised July reading of 87. The reading was the highest since June 2007.

Home sales are considered pending when the seller has accepted an offer, but the deal has not yet closed. Typically there is a one- to two-month lag before a sale is completed.

Energy

Oil prices slide on falling demand

Oil prices closed down Wednesday after touching their lowest level this year, pressured by a huge jump in U.S. crude inventories and more signs of dwindling demand.

Light, sweet crude for November delivery fell $1.11 to settle at $88.95 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil at one point fell to $86.05, the lowest price since Dec. 6.

In London, November Brent crude sank to a one-year low of $81 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange, before ending down 30 cents at $84.36.

Crude has now fallen about 40 percent since surging to a record $147.27 a barrel July 11.

Retail

Walgreen pulls bid for Longs Drug

Drugstore chain Walgreen has withdrawn its $2.8 billion bid to acquire Longs Drug Stores, apparently helping to ease the path for Longs’ $2.7 billion acquisition by CVS Caremark.

Walgreen Chief Executive Jeffrey Rein sent a letter to Longs’ board informing them of Walgreen’s decision to withdraw its bid.

Longs already had accepted CVS Caremark’s lower bid of $71.50 per share, a deal approved by antitrust regulators. Some Longs shareholders have criticized the CVS deal, saying it may undervalue Longs’ real estate.

Compiled from Seattle Times business staff, Bloomberg News and The Associated Press